FOR ME, ONE SUCH THING WAS HOT WATER
One of the greatest lessons living and working in Costa Rica can teach you is how much we may have taken for granted in our countries of origin. For me, one such thing was hot water. Reentering the world of the workforce brought with it the need to get up extremely early, shower and shave, and often iron my clothes. I feel an entire post should be dedicated to this, as anyone who’s battled the ups and downs of ESL teaching will give me an ‘amen brother’ here.
My morning classes started at 7am in Forum, Santa Ana in either our offices or an adjacent building. This meant my alarm would first sound at 4:30am. If I wasn’t out of bed and into my superhero costume by 5:15, I was late. I would awake to the sound of roosters and birds, a pitch-black sky, and a house full of sleeping Canadians. After making my way to the $16 coffee maker and placing bread in the toaster oven I would then proceed to put on a pot of water. Not for tea, not for a coffee sock, but to shave. Understand that in many homes in Costa Rica hot water is a luxury, not a standard.
So, in order to have a nice shave in the morning I would need to boil water, carry the pot to the bathroom sink, crouch down (Ticos are typically shorter than North Americans and mirrors are hung accordingly), and start to work on my mug. Appreciate that there was always a good chance I would miss a spot or two under that single, bare light bulb with no natural light to speak of. From there it was time to flip the switch on what gringos affectionately refer to as the “suicide shower”. It has earned this name as it is a plastic shower head that plugs into to a power source, thus heating an electric element over which the water (I assume) passes. From there you have a ‘hot shower’. I would describe this more as a warm, leaky, somewhat dissatisfying experience. If the electricity doesn’t kill you there is a chance that over time you may simply kill yourself. However, this was known in my new life as a shower.
Once I reached a state to be fairly judged as rinsed, I would towel off and start to work on my ironing. Washing machines here in typical settings involve a multistage process in a single device. At the end, you often end up with clothes that are wet, twisted, and if you’re not careful, covered in blue streaks of detergent. After hanging them on the line (often for days in the wet season), or as you see in many homes, strewn about the house or along the fence line for eternity, they do indeed need to be ironed. I couldn’t afford and ironing board ($45 for some reason here), so I would lay out my towel and begin a ritualistic pattern that would be burned into my brain and muscle memory for years to come.
Today I enjoy an apartment with a hot water heater, a washing machine and clothes dryer, and a lovely woman who comes in twice a week to do my laundry and more. I take NONE of that for granted, nor will I ever. I am sure that my children will hear of my struggles when they whine and moan about having to carry their laundry downstairs, or their siblings are complaining that someone used all the hot water. This is my ‘I used to walk 6 miles to school in the snow, uphill’ story.